Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Just So: Why the Space Shuttle's Tank Is Red

Photo courtesy Flickr

A while ago, someone at NASA looked at the shuttle and realized that every launch was lifting hundreds, maybe thousands, of pounds of unnecessary paint. They stripped the fuel tank, that huge central element of the lift assembly, of its purty white surface and saved the enormous effort it takes to get even a few pounds of payload out of earth’s gravity well. Willy Ley’s Rockets, Missiles, and Space Travel lays out the details.

Futurist Buckminster Fuller considered the weight of a thing before he considered anything else. That bit of wisdom, added to the thirty-pound limit for airline luggage early on and the inescapable realities of the hiker’s backpack have formed my sensibility. Over the decades, when faced with a range of choices in a store, I have leaned toward the smallest, lightest, most high-tech versions of whatever I was hunting.

Last week, I unpacked my three by twelve by ten inch side bag after a morning at the gym and a brief stop downtown, and realized that it held a full change of clothing in addition to a working art studio and the usual camera/phone/music assembly. The side bag functions like a climber’s day pack and allows me to make myself at home anywhere. I’m no longer rooted to a sleeping place, office, or vehicle, so I can make the most of any given circumstance.

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